Stewart's lead down to 1 after 3 rounds at Players Amateur

Hunter Stewart of Vanderbilt University hits the ball from the fairway at No. 2 during the third round of the Players Amateur golf tournament on Saturday afternoon at Berkeley Hall's South Course in Bluffton, S.C.
Hunter Stewart of Vanderbilt University hits the ball from the fairway at No. 2 during the third round of the Players Amateur golf tournament on Saturday afternoon at Berkeley Hall's South Course in Bluffton, S.C. Staff photo

There will be drama after all.

With a pair of college golfers pulling away from the Players Amateur field, and Vanderbilt's Hunter Stewart looking like he might pull away from Cal's Michael Weaver, the toughest hole on Berkeley Hall's South Course took a chunk from the Commodores' 20-year-old.

Stewart's double-bogey on the par-4 15th kept Weaver around and set up a two-man race for Sunday's final round. Stewart leads at 14-under-par 202 after shooting 70 Saturday. Weaver is a shot back after a 3-under 69.

Stewart took a drop from an unplayable lie on No. 15, after his drive stayed right into the bushes, and pitched out from there with a wedge. He played the final three holes 1-under to maintain his advantage.

The minor meltdown was softened by having his dad on the bag, Stewart said.

"He just told me walking off the green that we need to stay patient, pick one up coming in," Stewart said of his father, Jon. "You still need to play those one at a time. You can't just go right at the flag on 16."

Stewart and Weaver separated themselves from the elite field. South Florida golfer Chase Koepka started the day five shots back and felt he was still in contention. He shot 71 on Saturday, failing to make up ground but remaining in the final group.

The field was cut after the third round to top 40 and ties. The final group tees off at 9:10 a.m. Sunday.

Weaver wasn't happy with his third-round finish. He started the back nine with consecutive bogeys. When Stewart drove the green on the short par-4 14th, his lightning-fast eagle putt would have pushed his advantage to four.

"I can't really hang my head too much," said Weaver, who dealt with a mid-round downpour on his own, the only member of his group without a caddie. "I hung in there pretty good."

The final group Sunday features players with distinctly different credentials. Weaver is one of the world's top-ranked amateurs, finished runner-up at the 2012 U.S. Amateur and has played in the Masters and U.S. Open this year. He was medalist for the Bears in their NCAA regional.

Stewart, a Kentucky native with a distinctive swing, is trying to go wire-to-wire for his second victory of the year and first major amateur victory.

The Players Amateur champion earns an invitation to the 2014 RBC Heritage presented by Boeing.

Stewart would accept, swing quirks and all. He said teammates often imitate his mannerisms, including the position of his right shoulder and the motion of his right foot through the ball.

What looks like a sort of reverse pivot produces a solid strike. Stewart was 15 years old when he began working with swing instructor Ron Gring in Alabama, driving nine hours from Lexington, Ky.

"It doesn't look like a Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy kind of golf swing," said Stewart. "I feel like when I hit it well, I strike it fine. I'm just comfortable. It's kind of how I've always done it, and I've stuck with it."

Stewart learned in March the swing would hold up under pressure, outlasting the field at the Samford Intercollegiate to win his first college event.

His most recent test, at the Monroe Invitational, didn't finish as smoothly. He took a one-shot lead into the final round but shot 73 to finish third.

Weaver is happy to be within a comfortable margin. His two bogeys to start the back nine came from failed up-and-downs, the second after his tee shot on the par-3 11th finished in a spot well right of where he already knew not to miss.

He was headed for some more work after his round Saturday.

"I'm right in the mix," he said. "We'll see what we get for weather and go do my thing."

The Players Amateur

Saturday, at Berkeley Hall Club, South Course, Bluffton, S.C.; Par 72

Third round

Hunter Stewart 64-68-70--202

Michael Weaver 67-67-69--203

Chase Koepka 67-70-71-208

Tom Lovelady 73-68-68--209

Bobby Wyatt 69-71-69--209

Oliver Goss 72-68-70--210

Geoff Drakeford 70-73-68--211

Sean Dale 69-69-73--211

Benjamin Taylor 69-70-72--211

Oliver Schniederjans 76-66-70--212

Matthew NeSmith 69-72-71--212

James Gibellini 72-67-73--212

Keith Mitchell 74-68-71--213

Gavin Hall 74-68-71--213

Brady Watt 70-72-71 --213

Zack Jaworski 72-69-72--213

Nick Sherwood 72-73-69--214

Tyler Dunlap 71-71-72--214

Anders Albertson 74-72-69--215

Grayson Murray 75-71-69--215

Curtis Thompson 71-73-71--215

Kevin Marsh 73-71-71--215

Ben Dietrich 72-71-72--215

Ryan McCormick 72-70-73--215

Nathan Holman 75-67-73--215

Lee McCoy 72-75-69--216

Viraat Badhwar 73-73-70--216

Todd White 69-77-70--216

Jordan Zunic 74-71-71--216

Zachary Olsen 72-71-73--216

Davin White 73-70-73--216

Nicholas Reach 73-69-74--216

Richard Lamb 71-75-71--217

Brett Drewitt 74-71-72--217

Ricardo Celia 69 -74-74--217

Ben Fogler 75-77-66--218

AJ Crouch 74-74-70--218

Tae Koh 74-73-71--218

Lucas Herbert 67-79-72--218

Stephen Powers 72-74-72--218

Richy Werenski 72-74-72--218

Aaron Wilkin 73-72-73--218

Missed the cut (Cut line +2)

Michael Hines

Nick Gilliam

Travis Cashion

Andy Zhang

Michael Muehr

Maclain Huge

Compton Pikari

Matt Hansen

Jordan Janico

Mickey Werenski

Will Voetsch

Nick Tremps

Tucker Wadkins

Alan Barnhardt

Michael Balzer

Jake Mondy

Zachary Herr

Thomas Bradshaw

Sam An

Billy Kennerly

Sean Bosdosh

Woody Woodward

Carson Jacobs

Cody Proveaux

Andrew Yun

Julian Suri

Ji Soo Park

Anthony Paolucci

Dykes Harbin

Callan O'Reilly

Zander Lombard

Evan Beck

Austin Langdale

Ben Reeves

Scott Wolfes

Stephen Behr Jr.

John Voetsch

Final-round tee times

Sunday, at Berkeley Hall Club, South Course, Bluffton, S.C.

No. 1 tee

7 a.m.: Stephen Powers, Richy Werenski, Aaron Wilkin

7:10 a.m.: AJ Crouch, Tae Koh, Lucas Herbert

7:20 a.m.: Brett Drewitt, Ricardo Celia, Ben Fogler

7:30 a.m.: Davin White, Nicholas Reach, Richard Lamb

7:40 a.m.: Todd White, Jordan Zunic, Zachary Olsen

7:50 a.m.: Nathan Holman, Viraat Badhwar, Lee McCoy

8 a.m.: Kevin Marsh, Ben Dietrich, Ryan McCormick

8:10 a.m.: Anders Albertson, Grayson Murray, Curtis Thompson

8:20 a.m.: Zack Jaworski, Nick Sherwood, Tyler Dunlap

8:30 a.m.: Keith Mitchell, Gavin Hall, Brady Watt

8:40 a.m.: Oliver Schniederjans, Matthew NeSmith, James Gibellini

8:50 a.m.: Geoff Drakeford, Sean Dale, Benjamin Taylor

9 a.m.: Tom Lovelady, Bobby Wyatt, Oliver Goss

9:10 a.m. Hunter Stewart, Michael Weaver, Chase Koepka